Dollars for Brains

We have breezed through Putanumonit’s second birthday! As is customary, I’ve picked 10 of last year’s best comments to mark the occasion:

NatashaRostova on liquidity and market movements, gazeboist on the suspicion of neutrals, Benjamin and Maggie on poke combinations, Chebky on research incentives, Daniel on significance and markets, ADifferentAnonymous on tax-loss harvesting, rlms on 2ltl, Immortal Lurker on WalMart savings, Eric on premium mediocre dread, Alexander on Russian freedom.

As in year 1, my mailbox filled up with ravens from across the land. You have written in to tell me I’m doing a great job (appreciated) or to tell me I’m doing a good job and how I can improve (much appreciated). You have sought my advice on topics like sugar, green cards, feminism, passive income, p-values, and Moloch. You asked me to help you apply to business schools, set up investment portfolios, read and edit your work, do research on smoking, and forward your resumes. Several of you asked me to critique your OKCupid profile and help you improve your dating strategy.

I am grateful for all those emails. Every writer (with the possible exception of Chuck Tingle) writes partially for the ego boost of knowing that people care what they think. I’m happy some of you care what I think! I’ve tried to respond to everyone who has emailed me, and have mostly been successful in doing that. However, the quality of my responses varies a lot based on factors outside the control of the person writing me. If you catch me when I have a lot of free time we may get into an in-depth conversation, but if you’re the third person writing me on some topic and you catch me during a busy period, I may just shoot a terse email.

I feel like this is suboptimal.

Throughout those two years, I have also been getting several emails like this:


Putanumonit is committed to independent thinking, honesty, and fighting mindless consumerism, so I ask for more than they’re willing to pay I delete those emails without replying. When I betray your trust and sell out, I’m going to do it for four figures at least.

And then I got this email:


I answered that I wasn’t accepting donations, and while emailing back and forth with the person who asked me I was able to articulate why. My fear was that the amount of money coming in would be too small to really allow me to devote more time to blogging, but yet big enough to warp my incentives.

I worried that if I set up donations for future articles I may start writing more posts of lower quality. If I got donations for past articles, it would skew the selection of topics I write about and I’ll get worried about offending “sponsors”. In either case, getting paid for posts would turn blogging into a job, something that’s an obligation instead of a joyful exploration.

However, there are also some compelling reasons to accept donations on Putanumonit:

  1. Besides time and effort, I also spend money on this blog. I pay to keep it ad-free and error-free, I hired a graphic designer to do the hedgehog logo, etc. I also have ideas for writing projects that would require funds, for example running a research survey online. If I got money from Putanumonit readers, I would probably spend it on Putanumonit.
  2. I donate all the time to writers and podcasters I like, and I get great satisfaction from being able to do so.
  3. Thwarting free economic transactions with no externalities kinda goes against my philosophy.

So, I am pleased to inaugurate the Putanumonit Donate / AMA page. You can donate any integer amount of dollars to show your appreciation for the blog, and you also get to rent my brain for advice, tasks, and OKCupid profiles.

Here are your options:

If you donate and ask me to answer/do something, I promise to dedicate at least a minute of effort (research, reading, writing etc.) per dollar donated towards answering you promptly and to the best of my ability.

If you donate without asking me anything, I will be very grateful and will guarantee your AMA credit for at least one year from the date of donation.

If you ask me something without donating, I will still appreciate your engagement and will almost certainly get back to you, the same as I’ve been doing for the last two years.

The link to the donate / AMA page is up at the top right corner of this blog. You can’t actually submit a question through the donation page itself. Send me an email referencing the donation, or just from the same address you used to send money.

And finally, a word of caution. If you’re a regular reader of this blog you may be susceptible to thinking that I’m a competent person who has stuff figured out. Watch out for selection bias!

I write about the few topics that I think I have figured out enough to sound competent. I don’t write as much about the subjects that leave me flailing helplessly. If you write to ask me about difficult and controversial subjects (culture wars, Middle Eastern politics, carbs) you may get a well-informed and brave opinion, or an utterly clueless one.

When you send money to strangers online, you get what you pay for.

Thanks for your support, and here’s to many more years of putting a num on it!

2 thoughts on “Dollars for Brains

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